Brother and Sister Powerbrokers in Chicago and D.C.

Posted April 19, 2005 at 6:29pm

On a Saturday morning some 30 years ago, Patti Solis Doyle was a wide-eyed 9-year-old girl who found herself at a community rally for young neighborhood activists in the Pilsen district of Chicago. [IMGCAP(1)]

Her oldest brother, Daniel Solis, an up-and-coming local organizer, was getting ready to canvass the neighborhood on one issue or another. But his parents had asked him that morning to baby-sit the youngest of his five siblings. So Solis had simply brought his little sister along to the rally.

“I just remember him really captivating the room,” Doyle recalled. “Here were 200 people giving up their Saturday at 6 a.m. and they were all listening to my brother. I was like, ‘Wow, my brother is a pretty big deal.’”

Sixteen years of age separate the two Solis siblings but not much else. Today, Doyle is a pretty big deal, too.

While Daniel Solis went on to become Pilsen’s alderman on the Chicago City Council and a trusted ally of Mayor Richard Daley (D), Doyle found her way into the national political scene and today is one of the closest advisers to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). After serving as Clinton’s scheduler during her days in the White House and key adviser to her 2000 campaign, Doyle currently runs Clinton’s fundraising machine as the executive director of HillPAC.

Both siblings have come a long way in their chosen spheres of politics, but to chat with them together on the phone, one can still catch a few glimpses of the brother and sister pair who attended that neighborhood rally 30 years ago.

Solis is still extremely passionate about Chicago community issues. Doyle is still just as amazed as ever by how well her brother can stand up and lead a group of people on important neighborhood concerns.

“There’s no better person in grass-roots organizing than my brother, hands down,” she said.

And, like any sibling pair, the two aren’t afraid to poke fun at each other, though these days the jokes usually revolve around their ages more than anything else — Daniel is 55, while Patti is approaching 40.

The children of Mexican immigrants, Solis and Doyle credit their close-knit family for their success in the political world.

“Our father was the most patriotic man I knew,” Doyle said. “He died about six years ago and remains a huge force in our family.”

“My father had this saying,” Solis said. “Loosely translated it is, ‘Make a difference in what you get involved in.’”

When he was in college Daniel took that advice to heart. During the early

1970s, Solis got involved in a number of civil rights marches and anti-war protests while attending the University of Illinois. He was often in the thick of demonstrations, and in 1980 he helped found a community activist group called the United Neighborhood Organization. In its early years, UNO used the same protest tactics to win money for education improvements and health and city services for immigrant groups that Solis had witnessed in college.

“Some of the stuff I was doing was very confrontational and my dad, at the beginning, couldn’t understand it because he was such a patriot of the United States,” Solis said. “His constructive criticism was what turned me over into this organizing venue. I think it made a big difference in the evolvement I made from agitational activist politics to more the politics that can make a difference through the electoral process.”

Solis became executive director of UNO in 1986, and it wasn’t long afterwards that Doyle was graduating from college from Northwestern University “as most college students do, without a job,” she said.

So she went to her older brother who found her a spot working for Lourdes Monteagudo, a supporter of UNO whom the newly elected Mayor Daley had recently tapped as Chicago’s first deputy mayor for education.

Through working in the Daley administration, Doyle eventually met David Wilhelm, a Daley campaign manager who was selected in 1991 to run then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s (D) presidential campaign.

“He asked me to come to Little Rock, which was a big deal for any girl in a Mexican family. But my mother and father weren’t crazy about it,” Doyle recalled. “They were very comfortable with me being involved in politics, they just wanted me to do it at home and get married and have children. But the day they met Bill and Hillary was the day they said, ‘Go ahead, go out there and do what you’ve got to do.’”

“Originally Patti used to call me for advice,” Solis said. “But that soon changed, especially after the successful campaign of Bill Clinton.”

And as Solis went on to win several alderman re-election campaigns, earning the role of President Pro Tem of Chicago’s City Council in 2000, his sister went off to the White House and has followed Hillary Rodham Clinton ever since. Today the two siblings talk at least a couple of times a week on the phone, sharing thoughts on the issues of the day or just catching up on family matters.

“Danny is definitely my Chicago and Illinois guy, he keeps me abreast of everything that’s going on there,” Doyle said.

But if both siblings ever get too caught up in their political lives, they can always turn to their family — their mother, three sisters and a brother — to get grounded again.

“They play a very humbling role in our lives,” Doyle explained. “Danny could be with Mayor Daley all day and I could be with Hillary Clinton all day but when we go home it’s just like, ‘Who cares?’”

But that’s not to say the two siblings aren’t also able to keep each other grounded from time to time, either. When asked where each thought the other would be in five years, Daniel said he saw his sister as the “right arm” in a Hillary Rodham Clinton White House.

“She’s running for re-election [to the Senate] right now,” Doyle quickly reminded her brother — a common refrain for Clinton and her supporters.

But the oldest and youngest Solis siblings are also each other’s biggest supporters.

In five years, “I see my brother as a Member of Congress,” Doyle said. “He has so much to offer and is someone that I would want to lead me and be a spokesperson for me.”

For his part, Solis said that while an eventual Congressional run may be a possibility, he enjoys his job as alderman in the neighborhood where he grew up, working closely with Daley.

“He’s my guy here, everyone knows that,” Solis said of Daley. “My community and the Hispanic community in general and specifically the 25th ward has really benefitted through his leadership, he has definitely helped me out a lot.”

Solis is also occasionally mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor, but discounts the possibility because of Daley’s longevity.

“The mayor loves his job,” he said. “I think the people of Chicago love his leadership, and by the time he retires I’ll be ready to retire.”

But if Solis ever did consider running for a different office he’s already got a highly sought after campaign adviser ready and willing to join his campaign.

“I’d absolutely work for him,” Doyle said. “I’d do it for free.”